So. I’ve been thinking a lot about relationships.
Lord knows, I’m not an expert on the topic. But after nearly 13 years (!) of awkward courtship in NYC, I’ve encountered my fair share of horrors, consulted many seasoned elders, and learned a thing or 12 along the way. Here are some of my dumber moments and what they (eventually) taught me…
Communication is key.
Everyone knows this, but it can also be tough to put into practice. Games, passive aggression, shady disappearing acts…you name it, I’ve been guilty of it. But in a good situation, you and your mate should strive to speak your truth, with honesty and support — FROM THE VERY BEGINNING. You should feel comfortable saying things like “I want children” or “I am a feminist” and asking questions like “How do you envision the next few years?” and “Are those your scary drugs in the bathroom?” If you don’t communicate your needs, wants and feelings, how will your partner ever know?
Believe what people tell you.
When you’re trying to vet a new mate, remember what everyone from Dr. Ruth to Lena Dunham has reminded us: People tend to tell you the truth about who they are. If a person tells you they’re “just trying to have fun right now,” or they’re not over their ex or they really prefer the company of llamas, listen to them. They’re probably saving you a lot of time and heartbreak.
But remember: Words are cheap.
When I was a child, I had a Samantha doll from the American Girl collection. Back in the 90s, Samantha didn’t wear a frilly pink frock like today’s version. (WTF, American Girl?) She was all business in a starched plaid dress, and carried this needlepoint thing that read “ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS.”
While I’d like to think I was a fairly bright child, that sentiment confused me. As a seasoned thirty-something, I totally get it. And nothing could be more true.
It’s not that words aren’t important (see above re communication), but how a person acts is often more telling than their blathering. I once had an ex who promised me the moon, then hit on my friend and forgot my birthday. So look while you listen. Does your person make time for you? Do they want to introduce you to the important people in their life? Last but not least, how do their actions make you feel?
Remember your friends are flawed.
Your friends love you! They want you to wind up with someone wonderful. Someone who will make you happy. Yet, in practice, they may not know what these things look like, never mind how to help you get them.
I once dated this guy who was the openest of books. Early in the relationship, he told me exactly where I stood and how he felt about me, and it was so refreshing. I was over the moon. When I relayed this to my friends, they reacted with such horror that I began to doubt the entire thing. “How intense! Only a complete psycho would say something like that…” Looking back, there was nothing wrong with the guy—he was just emotionally available. My friends were reacting to their own commitment issues, and it totally screwed me up.
Figure out your non-negotiables. Screw everything else.
Do you remember when that book Marry Him came out and everyone got all mad about it? Say what you will about the message (and the controversial essay that spawned it), but there is one awesome piece of advice in there: When envisioning your future mate, you cannot make a list that is 8,356 traits long and then expect to actually find that person. And for that person to like you back.
Ask yourself: What’s really, truly important to you? If you want a partner who’s supportive, funny, wants kids and hearts dogs, then those are your non-negotiables. And maybe it’s cool if their height, hair color and job description are TBD.
While you’re at it, don’t be afraid to venture outside of your type.
I used to have a lot of rules. I wouldn’t date anyone short, since I’m five feet tall and our hypothetical offspring would be Oompa-Loompas. I was afraid to date anyone younger, as I feared they wouldn’t commit. I wanted someone creative, so they would “understand me.” (Rolls eyes at self.) I succeeded in dating lots of old, tall commitment-phobes who suffered for their art.
Then I ventured outside of my “type” and found more meaningful relationships. And I discovered that I actually prefer shorter guys. It’s nice to look a dude in the eye when I’m talking to him, and to not constantly feel like I’m trying to hug a giraffe or scale a Sequoia. Sometimes that thing you didn’t want turns out to be exactly what you needed.
Occasionally, your luck is bad. That does not mean you’re bad.
When I was a senior in college, I developed a crush on a boy in my history class. He read classic literature and wore collared shirts. By all accounts, he seemed sane. I was thrilled when he lingered after class one day to ask if I wanted to grab coffee.
So you can imagine my surprise when he asked, “Are you into dogs?” “Yes! I love dogs!” I replied. Because, you know, I do. “Yeah, but are you, like, into them?” he pressed on. Because I had unwittingly agreed to a date with a dude who was into bestiality. Yes, this actually happened. “What’s wrong with me???” I wailed to my roommate the moment I walked through the door. “Nothing is wrong with you,” she said, “Plenty is wrong with him.”
I’m not suggesting you shirk all blame for whatever goes wrong in your dating life. But sometimes, you can’t take it personally, because it really isn’t about you.
Comparison is the thief of joy.
That’s a thing Theodore Roosevelt said, and a thing I say whenever I look at my Instagram feed. I can be feeling pretty good about my situation…then show me someone donning a big white dress or decorating their lovely new townhouse and I doubt every decision I’ve ever made. Comparison is the surest way to feel lousy—so don’t do it. Not with dates, not with your marital status, not with exes, not with how many Tinder swipes other people get. And if you do accidentally compare, try to remember: Things are never what they seem. Case in point—the “dog guy” from the previous anecdote? He’s now somebody’s husband. Their wedding looked lovely on Facebook, but would you want to be his wife?
Anyway! That seems like a terrible note to end on, does it not? So instead, let us conclude with these lovely words from Oprah, Knower of All Things:
Know that the truth feels right and good and loving.
Love doesn’t hurt, I’ve learned. It feels really good.
At the end of the day, maybe that’s all we need to remember.
(Photo taken earlier this evening, on the Williamsburg Bridge)